Drum sanders, Are they worth it?

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Forum topic by Micah Muzny posted 10-10-2014 05:16 PM 2800 views 0 times favorited 22 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Micah Muzny

185 posts in 1910 days

10-10-2014 05:16 PM

I was looking at some drum sanders such as the supermax. Are drums sanders worth it? What are they useful for? What are their limits besides size? What are the alternatives? How many times do you use one? So many questions in one post haha. Could someone give me a run down of the good, the bad, and the ugly?

22 replies so far

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3825 days

#1 posted 10-10-2014 05:27 PM

I’m not wild about the ones I have had. I found
them slow and troublesome. They also leave
ripple marks. Some people will say they don’t
but in general to get professional stain penetration
you’re going to have to random orbit sand
after drum sanding.

Further, a drum sander always, always “calibrates”
which means if you have a few little high spots
you must painstakingly feed the board through
the sander again and again to sand them off in
order to get a consistent scratch patten on the
whole surface. The question I ask is “does your
work generally require dead flat surfaces?”

Mine doesn’t. Most work doesn’t. Nothing made
of wood before 1850 or so had anywhere the
flatness tolerances we take for granted today.

I have a stroke sander. It’s way faster and basically
trouble free. It takes up a lot of room and it doesn’t
have to calibrate the work to sand the entire surface.

Some people love them. They are definitely
not all equal either. There are some with 10hp
motors and 2 drums, stuff like that. I had
one with a 5hp motor and while it never bogged
down it was still an incremental process and
in general I found that most work required 2
passes for every 1/128” of depth adjustment.
That means a lot of standing around while the
tool does the work… unless you have space
for a huge outfeed table.

You will almost certainly not regret acquiring
a stroke sander. They can be bought at auction
for pennies to the pound. They are not
complicated to build either.

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

5143 posts in 2670 days

#2 posted 10-10-2014 05:31 PM

I bought one in 1999 from a friend (second hand but unused) who had bought it for a woodowkring venture that never panned out. I was wondering what i was going to do with it at the time, then it became maybe the 4th or 5 th most used tool in the shop. Hardly anything got made that didn’t have some pieces across the DS. That went on for about 9 years, and I started not using it as much. After nor using it for 4 years or so, I sold it. Now I find I miss it for some stuff that’s upcoming and I intend to buy a replacement (probably a Supermax 19/38, the first one was a Delta). What mine got used for as much as anything was precision planing….if you needed the board to be just a smidge smaller, the DS worked better than the planer for the ultra thin cuts. But it was also useful for thin wood (I had built some flag cases requiring 1/4” wood, the DS was great for that) and shop cut veneer. It will do thinner pieces than most planers. Another area where they shine is with really, really squirrely wood. I have Byrd heads in my jointer and planer, but I still had some curly maple that had tearout when I was working it on those tools. The DS took care of them quite well (albeit a LOT slower). That’s the good….the bad: they take a little learning. I quit running soft wood through mine altogether, slowed down the feed to the lower 3-4 speeds available, and made very light cuts. All this to not have my belts burn, or the workpiece burn. One’s as bad as the other. If you burn the belt bad enough, all you can do is get out another one. If you burn the wood you may have a long sanding session to get it off. Speaking of burned belts: I also quit using anything above 150 grit, and generally settled on 120. The finer grits clogged/burned more quickly/easily/readily/whatever other word <insert>. the ugly: these things generate mountains of sawdust, and pretty much require a good DC system. With mine (Oneida) it was so bad that during marathon sanding sessions I had to stop and clean the filter…I wound up putting a gauge on my discharge to keep track of the filter performance. Lastly, these are not finishing sanders…you will have to touch up the sanding marks they leave; the nature of the beast. All this, of course, my opinion based on my experiences.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View moke's profile


1259 posts in 2953 days

#3 posted 10-10-2014 05:34 PM

I bought a supermax 19/38 a couple of years ago. I always wanted a DS and this seemed to be the best one in my opinion. I have found many uses for it, over and above what I wanted it for.
I use it for what I call, finish planing. I get my maple and cherry close to the dimension I need with a planer, then DS it just in case I might get some tear out. I have had great success doing that, however, that is NOT a quick process. You need to take off a very small amount of material. It is time consuming, but I get great results. This is not a replacement for a surface planer.
I also do segmented bowls, and this is an awesome way to get the segmented rings flat before the glue up. I also use it for an occasional cutting board. It certainly saves a lot of sanding with an ROS and the board ends up dead flat.
Last month I even used it on my cedar decking. I have a small porch and steps that come off a 3 seasons porch I built. It was time to clean it and restain, so I took the cedar planking off and ran it through the DS just taking off a 64th or so…it looks like new….of course you can’t do that many times, but it certainly made it perfect before the staining. I have a couple of older more used sanding strips I keep for that style of “refinishing”. It is not like a planer where you could potentionally put a nick in the blade, these strips are just above being thrown away. IMHO I would buy it again in a heartbeat.

-- Mike

View Gene Howe's profile

Gene Howe

10988 posts in 3606 days

#4 posted 10-10-2014 06:01 PM

On some projects like trays and bowls I do require fairly flat stock. at least a bit more flat than planing will achieve. I bought a Performax by Jet for that purpose. It took me about 3 months of fighting with it to decide to get rid of it.
I replaced it with a “Flat Sander” from Stockroom Supply and have never looked back.

-- Gene 'The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him.' G. K. Chesterton

View Bill7255's profile


427 posts in 2462 days

#5 posted 10-10-2014 06:40 PM

I have the Supermax 19-38. I am in the camp as for it being slow and not taking off much material. However I wouldn’t part with it. I don’t have any problem regarding calibration. If fact I checked it last mont after being moved and the settings are where I initally set up the machine. The need depends on what you do. I refaced my old kitchen cabinets and new doors and some doors were a pain trying to get flat without the drum sander. I bought it when I decided to build kitchen cabinets for my new house. A whole lot easier getting the doors flat. I also dimensioned all my face frame stock which made that a lot easier to work with. And it was great for drawer material that I made using dovetails. There are other styles of sanders that may be faster, but since I am just a hobbiest this does just fine.

-- Bill R

View ex-member's profile


186 posts in 1952 days

#6 posted 10-10-2014 06:50 PM

@Loren. In fact they probably did have those tolerances but they did it with hand planes and scrapers. I saw a Chinese cabinet made in the 1400’s that I could see my reflection in. We get lazy with electrics.

View timbertailor's profile


1594 posts in 1601 days

#7 posted 10-10-2014 08:13 PM

View timbertailor's profile


1594 posts in 1601 days

#8 posted 10-10-2014 08:13 PM

On some projects like trays and bowls I do require fairly flat stock. at least a bit more flat than planing will achieve. I bought a Performax by Jet for that purpose. It took me about 3 months of fighting with it to decide to get rid of it.
I replaced it with a “Flat Sander” from Stockroom Supply and have never looked back.

- Gene Howe

Interesting design concept. But, terrible and very undetailed photos. Probably from fear that everyone would copy it.

So, what does it come with and what does it actually look like, in action? I assume it is the V Drum Sander, we are talking about?

- timbertailor

-- Brad, Texas,

View Micah Muzny's profile

Micah Muzny

185 posts in 1910 days

#9 posted 10-10-2014 08:41 PM

I assume he is talking about the V drum flatmaster sanders. Those are not priced to bad, might have to look into them and see what they are all about.

View BritBoxmaker's profile


4611 posts in 3213 days

#10 posted 10-10-2014 09:40 PM

Yes. I made my own, a few years ago. It is excellent for precision thicknessing of stock, within .05 mm, down to 0.5mm thick. I use it on practically every project I undertake. Limits on mine are up to 50 mm thick and 350 mm wide. But of course if you make your own you can improve on maximum capacity.

-- Martyn -- Boxologist, Pattern Juggler and Candyman of the visually challenging.

View English's profile


660 posts in 1654 days

#11 posted 10-10-2014 09:44 PM

I have a Grizzly 24” double drum sander. I find it very handy in flattening glue up panels. Cleaning up thin resaws/ venner to get the band saw marks off before bent glue ups. Removing very small amounts of wood. It will remove much less than a planer. I don’t have any problem with ridges on mine, but glue build up on the paper will cause burning. I find it a handy tool, it does take up a lot of space.

-- John, Suffolk Virgina

View runswithscissors's profile


2874 posts in 2202 days

#12 posted 10-10-2014 10:07 PM

One complaint you see a lot is feed belt tracking. I have that problem too (Performax 16-32 via Craigslist). I have been puzzling out a way to have automatic belt tracking, but haven’t come up with anything yet. When/if I do, I expect to become obscenely rich. Don’t hold your breath.

-- I admit to being an adrenaline junky; fortunately, I'm very easily frightened

View Shawn Masterson's profile

Shawn Masterson

1325 posts in 2126 days

#13 posted 10-10-2014 10:18 PM

I had a performax 22/44 I hated the open end design. It never made a flat panel. I replaced it with a performax 25×2 and it was more consistent but god awfully slow. after owning it for 3 years I decided it wasn’t worth the space it took up in the shop and sold it for more than double what I had in it. I don’t miss it one bit.

View ,'s profile


2387 posts in 3724 days

#14 posted 10-11-2014 12:22 AM

Thought I would comment. We had a 26” double drum Steel City with 3 hp motor, bought in 2010. Sure it had a few weaknesses. But in comparison to using a 4 by 21 porter cable it was a dream.

We recently sold that drum sander as we had the opportunity to purchase a Grizzly 10 hp 37” double drum sander. The sander is single phase and was in like new condition. This sander is on a completely different playing field altogether than what our Steel City was. The Grizzly has been a pure pleasure to use and is built extremely strong in comparison to the Steel City we had. Even the feed belt is driven by a chain and sprocket set up.

I was on the edge of getting a wide belt at auction but the opportunity never really presented itself. Plus most of the wide belts would have been a 20 hp 3 phase which would have been a bit more difficult to run in our shop. We mostly just use the sander to sand bench/table tops and also to sand face frames. We can now sand all of our base FF and most of our upper cabinet FF.

I will say that I know of a guy who owns the Woodmaster 50” sander and he loves that drum sander as well. I have been very tempted with the Woodmaster sander, I love that it is an American machine and for the money it is a great value at new cost. I might some day sell our 37” grizzly to buy the 50” woodmaster, mainly so we can fit all of our FF through the sander. Most of our upper cabinets are 42” tall and 1/2 of them are wider than 36”.

I also have a friend who owns a 37” Performax 5 hp drum sander and he is not extremely fond of it. And just looking at it in his shop it does not look as well built or as beefy as the 10 hp Grizzly we have in our shop.

At the end of the day, we have had decent success with our drum sander experience. We have never owned any of the smaller open ended or lesser expensive drum sanders.

I got a very good deal on price for the Grizzly, but if I were buying new I would most definitely go Woodmaster. And if I thought it was feasible, I would go wide belt.

Loren of course makes a good point about the Stroke sander, but I think they take up some real estate.

-- .

View buildingmonkey's profile


242 posts in 1725 days

#15 posted 10-11-2014 12:22 AM

I skipped the drum sanders and went with a Grizzly G9983 wide belt sander. It is only 5hp, single phase. Only sands 15” but is open end and you can sand wider panels. I find it makes my panels flat. Not as fast as a 38”. because you have to reverse the panel and run it through a 2nd time. But, small footprint, small enough electric load to fit in a home shop. Need a good dust system though. I am getting by with a 2hp system for now. And it works fairly well.

-- Jim from Kansas

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